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About This Report
Learn why we commissioned this report and meet the experts who contributed to it.


Student learning is influenced more profoundly by the quality of the teacher than by any other school factor. Ensuring that every student has access to a great school demands that we focus on the quality of teachers. From preparation to induction, throughout a career of continuous improvement, and achieving accomplished practice and teacher leadership, Great Teaching and Learning: Creating the Culture to Support Professional Excellence promises to open the doors of opportunity for students and has the potential to transform lives.

Our inspiration

The NEA’s core values assert that “each student, regardless of family income or place of residence, deserves a quality education.” These words came to life in 2011, as NEA assembled a task force of outstanding educators to study the keys to excellence in the teaching profession.

Student learning is influenced more profoundly by the quality of the teacher than by any other school factor.

That task force issued challenges for work to be done by policy makers, schools and districts, NEA’s educator-members, and the Association at the local, state, and national levels. Transforming Teaching: Connecting Professional Responsibility with Student Learning (2011) continues to serve as an important guide for the work of all who share NEA’s vision.

Building on that foundation, NEA’s Accountability Task Force Report (2014) offered additional bold steps on the path to great public schools for every student.

Supporting teachers throughout their careers

Continuous growth toward professional excellence for each teacher is essential if we hope to realize the vision that each student pursues and attains challenging goals for learning. The 2015 NEA Representative Assembly issued a charge to answer the next logical question:

What must we do to support the growth, development, and excellence of teachers throughout an entire career?

This report provides our response to that crucial question. Combining the expertise and experiences of an expert panel of outstanding teachers, educators, and community members with a review of exemplary practices, it contains important recommendations to achieve and sustain new norms of professional excellence throughout each teacher’s career.

The six phases of an educator’s career

In 2011 and 2012, the NEA Professional Standards and Practices Committee (PSP) outlined a framework consisting of five phases of a teacher’s career and development — aspiring teacher (preparation), emerging teacher (induction), professional teacher, accomplished teacher, and teacher leader. NEA uses this framework to organize the discussion of desired characteristics and professional supports for each career phase. In addition to the five phases from the NEA Professional Standards and Practices Committee, our expert panel added a sixth phase — recruitment of potential teachers — as an integral part of our overall recommendations.

Together, the phases are referred to as a “professional continuum,” though they are not necessarily sequential. Teachers can show leadership at every stage of their careers; also, an educator who takes on new and different responsibilities or investigates a new instructional strategy may move from accomplished practice to emerging teacher while developing new skills and fluency of practice.

Setting the stage for transformation

As the panel reviewed exemplary practices and developed its vision for each career phase, several systemic factors emerged as essential to achieving and sustaining the desired culture of learning and professional excellence. This recommendations in this report are organized around these five keys to transformation.

A clear call to action

The report contains prioritized recommendations organized by the role of the reader — teacher, NEA member-educator and affiliates, teacher preparation program (TPP), school/district, community member, or policymaker — and suggestions for collaboration around shared responsibilities. These recommendations are a compelling call to action on behalf of our vision for schools, for the teaching profession, and most importantly, for our students.

Meet our Experts

Harold Acord

Mr. Acord was a Spanish teacher at Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley, California for 25 years and is currently in his second term as President of the Moreno Valley Education Association (MVEA). He started as an MVEA Site Rep. He has served on the local Exec Board for 13 years and served as Vice President before becoming President. He also has been active on various MVEA committees and workgroups, including the Bargaining Team and Grievance Committee, etc.

Active with the California Teachers Association’s (CTA) State Council of Education, Mr. Acord served as chair of the Credentials and Professional Development Committee. Since 2006, he has been a liaison from CTA to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Mr. Acord was appointed by the California Teachers Association to the CTA Teacher Evaluation Workgroup and as an NEA member of the Board of Examiners for the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education’s Board (NCATE). Most recently he has been appointed Chair of CTA’s Teacher Pipeline Workgroup.

Originally from Michigan, Mr. Acord is a graduate of the University of Michigan. His family has been involved in unionism in Flint, Mich., since the 1930s. 

Tracy Cropsey

Mrs. Cropsey is a teacher leader who has taught middle school science for Marcellus Community Schools in Michigan for the past 12 years. She is a 2015 NEA Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) fellow and serves as a Michigan coach for TLI. Mrs. Cropsey has an undergraduate degree from Western Michigan University, Secondary Education certification from Goshen College, and a Master of Arts in Education from Cornerstone University.

Mrs. Cropsey is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Curriculum and Instruction in Science Education. In addition to her responsibilities as a teacher, Mrs. Cropsey is President of the Marcellus Education Association. 

Joe Doctor

Dr. Doctor leads strategy development, strategic projects, and policy for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. His work focuses on elevating the role the National Board can play to strengthen the professional career continuum for teachers and advance the teaching profession. He leads the National Board’s partnership with the Network to Transform Teaching, a group of state, district, and practicing teacher stakeholders using the networked improvement community methodology to develop breakthrough improvements across the career continuum.

Dr. Doctor coauthored “Raising the Bar for Teaching” with Jal Mehta, arguing for adapting supports other professions have put in place as a strategy to elevate teaching. He joined the National Board in 2012. Previously, Dr. Doctor was a manager at the Bridgespan Group, a strategy consulting nonprofit serving the social sector. He holds a doctorate in education leadership from Harvard University.

Melissa Erickson

Mrs. Erickson is a committed and passionate child advocate, with more than 15 years of progressive leadership in positions related to community organizing and volunteer management.

Locally, she has served as President of the PTA in Hillsborough County, Fla., the nation’s eighth largest district. She is an active participant in community engagement groups surrounding the school district’s initiative to empower effective teaching. She also has organized community engagement forums for the U.S. Department of Education to support improvement in neighborhood housing turn around schools. As a military wife and a former teacher, Mrs. Erickson is a strong advocate for the Common Core State Standards, believing their adoption will have a significant impact on the ability of military families to obtain high-quality education for their children, while accommodating the military’s need to move personnel. Mrs. Erickson was recognized by former President Barack Obama as a Champion of Change.

Chelsey Jo Herrig

Even early in her career as an educator, Ms. Herrig is recognized as dynamic leader. Ms. Herrig was elected Chairperson of the NEA Student Program in 2014; she completed her term in August 2016. 

Ms. Herrig grew up in a single-parent household in the small town of Jackson, Minn., while her mother worked two jobs to make ends meet. Ms. Herrig majored in Elementary Education at Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU), graduating with a mathematics endorsement and minor in Special Education. Prior to her election as Chairperson of the NEA Student program, Ms. Herrig served as the Co-President of the SMSU Education Student Program for three years. She is currently completing her studies and plans to continue her career as an educator.

Christopher Ho

Mr. Ho has been teaching Social Studies for six years — five years in Hawaii and one year in Nevada. After moving to Hawaii and realizing the difficulty many people face in transitioning to another state, he decided to join his local union and work for the betterment of teachers. This year, Mr. Ho was elected Vice President of the Hilo Chapter and Institute Chairperson.

Mr. Ho recently created an online course to help empower Hawaii teachers to advocate and educate their colleagues. This was the first course of its kind to be offered to teachers in Hawaii and was created as result of Mr. Ho’s experience with NEA’s TLI program. 

Maria Hyler

Dr. Hyler is a member of Learning Policy Institute’s (LPI) Educator Quality and Deeper Learning teams. She is co-lead for an upcoming study on teacher preparation for deeper learning. Dr. Hyler also represents LPI on several initiatives focused on teacher preparation, development, and leadership. Her work focuses on structures and systems that support student success, best practices for preparing aspiring teachers to teach students of diverse backgrounds, and preparing equity-centered educators.

Dr. Hyler previously served as Assistant Professor of teacher preparation and professional development at the University of Maryland – College Park. She began her career as a high school English teacher in San Mateo County, Calif., where she achieved National Board Certification in Adolescent Young Adult English Language Arts.

Dr. Hyler received her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Stanford University, an M.Ed. with a teaching credential from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a dual degree in English and Africana Studies from Wellesley College.

Mary Ellen Kanthack

Mrs. Kanthack has evolved from a formally trained pianist to a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Brookwood Middle School in Genoa City, Wisc., into a Nationally Board Certified Teacher, Middle Childhood/Generalist. She attained her Elementary 1­8, political science, and Speech Communications licenses, along with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University of Wisconsin – ­Parkside. She continued to grow and expand her education in active research with a focus on brain-based learning in her graduate program, which led to a Master of Arts in Teaching from Aurora University. Her post-graduate studies have included a focus on teaching mathematics, writing, and science; authentic, metacognitive instructional strategies; and personalized learning.

Mrs. Kanthack has served as President, Vice President and building advisor for Genoa City Educators​’ Association. She is known as an advocate against the misuse of standardized tests and for her strong support for students with special needs.

Chosen by NEA to work among the top teachers in the nation, as part of the Association’s Master Teacher Project, Mrs. Kanthack helped build and publish a new, free online resource of original math and science lessons, which includes integrated technology​. ​She continued this work as a consultant for BetterLesson, to help teachers better apply strategies in their practice and help them understand the scaffolding of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. 

Shelly Moore Krajacic, Chairperson

Ms. Krajacic is an English and Drama teacher from Ellsworth, Wisc. She was elected to the NEAs’ Executive Committee in July 2015 for a three-year term.

Ms. Krajacic is a third-generation Wisconsin public school teacher with almost 20 years of classroom experience. She is a National Board–certified Teacher. Prior to her election to NEA’s Executive Committee, Ms. Krajacic served in numerous national, state, and local leadership capacities, as well as several Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction committees. In addition, she is a member of the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), and served on NEA’s Board of Directors for six years. She also was a candidate for the Wisconsin State Senate in 2011.

Ms. Krajacic earned her bachelor’s degree from University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point and a master’s degree in English Education from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls, where she previously served as an adjunct instructor.

Tommie Leaders

Mr. Leaders is a fourth grade teacher with the Council Bluffs Community School District in Iowa. He is a third-year teacher who is constantly looking for ways to improve his practice and advocate for the teaching profession. Leaders is currently pursuing a master’s degree from Concordia University in Education Administration.  Mr. Leaders previously served as Chairperson of the National Education Association Student Program. Since beginning his career in Council Bluffs, he has been very active in the Council Bluffs Education Association, serving as membership chair and as a building representative. He currently serves as President of Council Bluffs Education Association.   

Christy Perry

Currently serving as Superintendent of Salem-Keizer Public Schools, Christy Perry has extensive experience in K-12 education. She is passionate in her support of public education and the success of all students. Prior to becoming Superintendent of Salem-Keizer, she spent nine years as Superintendent of the Dallas School District. She also served as a director of Human Resources, elementary school principal, university instructor, and has taught fifth and sixth grades.

Superintendent Perry attended college at Oregon universities, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Education from Western Oregon University and her administrative license from Portland State University.

Community partnerships are important to Superintendent Perry. She has served on a variety of boards, and strives to have collaborative partnerships with law enforcement, local governmental agencies, the faith community, and area businesses and nonprofits.

Theo Small

Mr. Small has 26 years of education experience, serving as a special education paraprofessional, classroom teacher, English Language Learning Specialist, and Elementary Science Trainer. He currently serves as Vice President of Clark County Education Association (CCEA), in Las Vegas.

Mr. Small is most proud of the work to coordinate organizations to collectively address the issues impacting the Clark County School District (CCSD). This collective impact system approach has influenced how CCSD attracts, hires, and supports teachers and licensed professionals. CCEA recently worked closely in a bi-partisan process to change the delivery system of CCSD to shift decision making at the sight level, where schools will control up to 80 percent of their own budgets.  Part of this work is to advocate for Nevada’s funding system becoming more equitable to address the needs of vulnerable students and families.

Mr. Small sits on Nevada’s Teacher and Leader Council, appointed by the Governor to create the state’s evaluation system.

Darein Spann

Mr. Spann has been an educator for 13 years. He is a high school English teacher at Magee High School in Magee, Miss. Mr. Spann is a member of the Mississippi Association of Educators Board of Directors and the NEA Board of Directors, representing Mississippi. In addition, Mr. Spann serves as NEA Human and Civil Rights Committee Chairperson. He was selected Teacher of the Year in 2016 for his building, and as the district’s nominee for Mississippi Teacher of the Year. (more)

Mr. Spann holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, Master of Arts in Education, and an Educational Specialist degree in Leadership; he is currently pursuing his doctorate.  He is a 2015 NEA Teacher Leadership Initiative fellow. 

Hanna Vaandering

Hanna Vaandering is an elementary physical education teacher from Beaverton, Ore. She is President of the Oregon Education Association. Ms. Vaandering is a lifelong learner and proud graduate of Pacific University. She started her teaching career at Ridgewood Elementary, and has committed her life to ensuring that all students, regardless of their zip code, have access to a quality, well-rounded public education.

Ms. Vaandering is particularly proud of her work with Oregon educators and coalition partners to build a balanced system of assessment — one that takes the focus off of testing, and shifts it to where it ought to be: inspired learning.

Ms. Vaandering was elected to NEA’s Executive Committee in July 2017 and began her term in September.

Recommendations by Career Phase

Helping Educators Excel, at Every Stage of their Career

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National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.